How to Adopt A Dog: What to Know Before Taking Spike Home

How to Adopt A Dog
John Walton
Written by John Walton

It’s hard not to fall in love with a puppy at first sight. We all want to take home that new and special pet, but not everyone can afford the price tag of a special breeder. Instead, more and more people are learning how to adopt a dog to find their new four-legged friends, providing homes to those who have been neglected or abused, and are definitely deserving of loving owners just as much as a pedigree.

However, there are many dog adoption rules and laws in place protecting such activities to ensure that new owners know exactly what they’re getting into.

Vetting Potential New Owners

Both shelters and adoption agencies have a lot of rules in place, and if it’s your first time adopting, you should be prepared to answer a lot of questions. This is to ensure that the dogs being adopted are going to have long-term homes, and that there is a good match between the animal and the adoptees.

Vetting potential new owners

Different dogs have different needs due to their size, temperament, and back stories, and it’s important that those who are interested in adoption will have the willingness to meet all (if not a majority) of these needs. The questions most likely to be asked are:

  • whether you own your own home or are renting
  • if you have any children, how many, and their ages
  • if you have any other pets, and what kinds
  • contact information for your veterinarian
  • prior experience with pets
  • lifestyle and expectations for the new pet

There are three main reasons these questions are asked, and they’re related to why animals are surrendered in the first place: landlord issues, moving, and the costs associated with pet care. Ensuring that you’re able to meet the needs of the potential pet ensures that they’re not going to be returned to the shelter in the future.

There are no right or wrong answers, and lying on the questionnaire or in the interview will only make it worse for everyone involved. Even if the dog you’re really interested in doesn’t meet your particular lifestyle, the adoption shelter is likely to have another animal that will so don’t be too disappointed.

Knowing the Adoption Process

If you’re ever worried about what you’re going to have to go through before you can take home your new dog, you can put those fears to rest. Many shelters and adoption groups have their adoption information online, so you can read through the process and their expectations before you step foot into their buildings.

Adoption a dog process

Some of them may even have pictures and information about the animals that they have so you can have an idea beforehand of which animals you might be interested in meeting. There are, however, some basics you should keep in mind when it comes to the adoption process.

  • Time: some shelters may allow you to take your new dog home the same day, while others may require some time to come to a decision. It’s a good idea to ask someone at the shelter how long this process takes. Don’t feel disheartened, however, if your application is turned down for a particular dog. There are plenty of other wonderful animals to choose from.
  • Making guarantees: in the adoption process, you may be asked to guarantee that you will have your new dog neutered or spayed within a certain time period, especially if you’ve gotten a puppy. This is to ensure that there aren’t any unwanted puppy litters in the future that you can’t afford to take care of, leading to them likely being dumped in another shelter.
  • Fees: shelters and adoption agencies are mostly run by donations and fees that are paid for animals. It’s expensive to take care of a dog on your own, so imagine how costly it must be to take care of dozens or even hundreds. Keep in mind, however, that adoption fees are generally a lot less than you’d pay for a new puppy from a breeder.
  • Interactions: staff members like to know that you and your potential new pet are a good match, so they want to see how you interact together. Bring the whole family with you, as well as your other pets so that they can get a feel for how their shelter dog may act around everyone they might be living with for the rest of their lives.

It may seem like a lot of effort to go through, but it’s in everyone’s best interests that the adoption process goes as smoothly as possible to avoid any hang-ups in the future.

Types of Animal Shelters

You may think that shelters have the best interests of animals at heart, but there aren’t many places where regulations exist, dictating the practices that shelters should adopt. That means that in some instances, they’re not subject to inspections nor are they required to have a minimum standard of care for the animals that they have.

Dogs at shelter

Basically, these shelters are working on an honor system. It’s easy for any hoarder to start working as a non-profit organization without having anyone to oversee their adoption processes. However, more and more laws are being passed to take care of these problems.

It probably comes as a surprise that not all adoption shelters are the same, and so are each governed by different sets of rules and regulations. There are four main types of shelters:

  • Municipal shelters: arose out of animal pounds, and are funded by local taxes and dog license fees. Their job is to pick up stray dogs and to have open admission for any dogs that are surrendered by owners. This typically leads to overcrowding, which can lead to financial strain as well as increasing the likelihood of diseases being transmitted from animal to animal.
  • Private shelters: these are the non-profit organizations that are funded through fundraisers from the public. They have the freedom to be an open admission, limited admission, or no-kill shelters.
  • Rescue organizations: these are also non-profits societies whose goal is to re-home animals. They may choose to focus on a specific species of animal or dog breed, and gets most of their animals through surrenders or organizing with local shelters to take them in.
  • Foster homes: these are temporary homes for animals that need adoption. Being in a shelter can be a stressful time for a dog, and puts a strain on their psychological health. However, by being in a home-like environment, they can start to heal and learn beneficial social skills that will increase their chances of being adopted. Private individuals can sign up to be foster homes and help local shelters decrease their overpopulation problems.

Knowing the differences between these kinds of rescue organizations will help you make a better decision on where to get your new furry friend, as well as what to expect when you enter these buildings.

Laws Governing the Running of Shelters

One of the most overarching pieces of legislation that governs the four kinds of shelters mentioned above is the Animal Rescue Act. Not all states have enacted this Act, despite how beneficial it is to save an animals’ life. Under this Act, a rescue organization of foster home can step in and force a shelter to transfer an animal to their custody in order to prevent euthanasia. The shelter can then charge a transfer fee, as long as it isn’t more than the adoption fee.

Running the dog shelters

The purpose behind this Act was to encourage shelters to work with rescue organizations in order to increase adoption rates and spare animals from being needlessly euthanized. There are also specific laws regarding the different kinds of shelters.

  • Public shelters: because they are funded by tax dollars and dog license fees, the rules and regulations are determined by the county commissioners. Inter-governmental agreements are created to provide services of animal control, impounding, licensing, and/or the disposition of dogs and other animals. These rules are enforced by the paid employees of the shelter.
  • Foster homes: these are private individuals who have volunteered their time to provide care and shelter for animals who are in need of adoption. These come under a certain amount of scrutiny, as shelters still retain ownership of the animal until they are adopted. Because of this, a limit is placed on foster homes as to the number of animals they can have. Shelters can conduct home inspections of potential foster homes before approving their application to ensure that they are up to standard. Foster homes must also abide by the local regulations, attend orientations held by the shelter, care for the animal at home, meet schedule vet appointments, and bring the animal to adoption events in order to facilitate finding them forever homes.

These organizations are also subject to a variety of licensing fees, which require annual inspections and applications in order to ensure that the animals in their care are being treated humanely. In some states, rescue organizations are asked to work under contract in order to avoid licensing.

Dogs at dog shelter

In the states that do require licensing, there are a large number of different kinds of licenses.

  • Kennel licensing: this is the same license that a commercial breeder or kennel would have to apply for. Fees can be determined by what kind of kennel the organization is running, including commercial kennels, private kennels, rescue kennels, or non-profit kennels, just to name a few. What is defined as a «kennel» is different in each state.
  • Broad state licensing: this covers a wider variety of buildings and organizations, as it regulates any place that is used for the purpose of keeping pet animals for adoption purposes. This can include pet shops, breeders, shelters and rescues. Foster homes do not fall into this category, but the rescue group who the foster home is volunteering for is responsible for ensuring that standards are met and inspections are held on a regular basis.
  • Local licensing: when there are no statewide regulations, shelters and rescue organizations may have to adhere to the local licensing schemes of the areas they operate in. This way, there are still some regulations in place to ensure everyone is in compliance.

What happens if there is no licensing scheme? Because there is no control over how the animals are cared for, how many animals a facility can have, and what should be done in the best interests of the animals in their care, it’s easy for these places to start suffering from problems.

It would be easy for animal abusers, hoarders, and owners of dog fighting rings to abuse the system and put these animals in even worse situations. Problems also arise when it comes to those who choose to foster; without any regulations in place, disputes over who really owns the animal can become huge legal battles.

Legal Requirements of Shelters

In order to ensure that the animals are receiving the best care, there are specific considerations that should be met before a shelter or rescue organization can begin operation. These include the laws governing sterilization and vaccination, importing animals across state lines, zoning, nuisance laws, tort liability, and financial reimbursement.

Puppies in the cage at shelter

Many of the local laws that apply to dog owners will also be applied to rescue and foster groups.

  • Sterilization and vaccination: this is to reduce the overpopulation problem, and requires shelters and rescues to sterilize all animals before they are released for adoption. Many shelters have an exception to this in regards to puppies, and will require new adopters to sign their application fee, stating that they’ll have the animal spayed or neutered within a certain time period.
  • Importing animals: it’s more common than you think to find dogs in shelters who have come from other states. These stories are especially common for those states that have a lot of kill shelters. No-kill shelters can step in to take these animals and give them a better chance at finding good homes. Rescue organizations are required to give the state a 10-day notice before transporting an animal across state lines. Health certificates are also a requirement, and many states state that the animal must be seen by a veterinarian within 48 hours and continue to meet scheduled appointments for the next 90 days until the animal is adopted or sold.
  • Pet limit, zoning and nuisance laws: these are also put in place to prevent overcrowding and ensuring that all of the animals are provided with humane care. Shelters can’t just set up anywhere where there’s a large piece of land. Zoning permits have to be applied for, as well as whether their surroundings neighbors would be affected by the presence of an animal shelter through the noise and/or smell.
  • Tort liability: it’s expected that not all animals a shelter takes in are going to act like perfect angels. Many of these dogs have been abused in the past or suffer from anxiety of some sort, and that can likely lead to injuries. Staff members can put animals through rehabilitation and training, but there is still the risk of someone being bitten, and adoption agencies should be prepared for such incidents to occur.

Transference of Title

Understanding the ownership of animals can be difficult to comprehend, especially when the law treats them as personal property when many pet owners see their dogs as something more. It is much easier to understand if you examine who is providing the care for the animal, and whether they do so willingly or under the guidance of someone else.

When someone takes an animal to a shelter, whether it’s to surrender them or they’re abandoned on the front step, the title of ownership of the animal is transferred to the shelter. Some shelters may have a holding-day policy where they are kept for a period of time in case the original owner changes his mind; once this period of time has elapsed, the animal is put up for adoption. Once reclaimed, however, the shelter may ask for the costs of boarding the animal. In the case of abandonment, the facility that has the animal does not have an automatic title.

Transference of title document

They must first inform the owner that he can obtain his animal by paying for any services provided to the animal, and that he has a certain number of days to do so. If there is no response, then the facility, such as a vet’s office or dog groomer, has the responsibility of turning the animal over to a shelter where the title is then transferred. For those who abandon their pets in a public place, they can face misdemeanor charges.

In the case of a third party finding the animal, the original owner has a longer period of time to reclaim the title. These rights won’t likely be destroyed if he has taken reasonable efforts to find his dog, such as contacting local shelters and putting up signs around the neighborhood. However, if the third party has taken care of the animal for a longer period of time and has made the effort to find the original owner, then he may gain the title. Where the third party is not interested in keeping the animal, then he should contact animal control as soon as possible.

Humane societies have an obligation to keep animals they find for a prescribed period of time. This time period varies from state to state, but the shelter must make a concerted effort to find the original owner. However, not all animals come with tags or microchips, making the process almost impossible. Where these owners can’t be found, it is in the animal’s best interests that they become the property of the shelter so that they can continue to receive the proper care and hopefully find a new home.

The adoption process is an entirely new link in the chain of title transfer. It is governed by the Uniform Commercial Code, which regulates the sale of goods, and treats the adoption procedure as a sale. A shelter can try to place conditions on the adoption process, such as not using the dog for fighting rings and ensuring the animal is spayed or neutered, but these can be difficult to enforce as the transference of title allows the owner to do what he wants with his «property.»

Dog adoption process girls wanting a puppy

However, if caught, this person could end up facing criminal charges and the animal would then be removed from his care. Some shelters may even ask for deposits on spaying/neutering fees and will return these to owners if they’ve complied with the conditions.

Although the owner has legal title to the animal, shelters can still make inquiries and inspections of the property if they have speculations about animal abuse. It’s a strange relationship, but because the «property» involves living, breathing animals, it’s important to ensure that they’re being cared for properly.

Pet adoption should be a beautiful time for anyone or any family who is looking to add a new member to their numbers. It can seem like a hassling experience, having to file a lot of paperwork and pay fees before you can take home your new four-legged friend. But in the end, being aware of the process that’s involved with dog adoption can make the experience all the more enriching, knowing that a lot of people have put a lot of hard work into ensuring that all the parties involved come out on top.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.